How the Election Impacts Social Security

Published in Woonsocket Call on July 24, 2016

On the final night of the Republican National Convention (RNC) an average of 32 million Americans tuned in to watch Donald J. Trump, a New York Real Estate Developer, author, television personality and now politician, formally accepted the GOP nomination for President of the United States.

After he delivered his July 21 speech, reporters, political commentators, and even postings trending on twitter called Trump’s hour and 15 minute speech (4,400 words) “dark” because of its stark tone and content. This GOP presidential candidate’s speech was even referred to as being the longest acceptance speech in history since 1972.

Before more than 2,400 delegates Trump, 70, pledged to be the nation’s law and order president who would crack down on crime and violence. America first would be Trump’s mantra during the negotiation of international trade deals and the existing NAFTA trade accord would be renegotiated.

Trump also called for defending the nation’s borders against illegal immigrants and giving parents more choice in choosing schools for their children. And to the forgotten men and woman across the country who were laid-off because of President Obama’s mishandling of the economy Trump promised to be their voice. Syrian refugees would be vetted and only those individuals who “will support our values and love our people” will be admitted, he said.

Trump Ignores Social Security in Speech

Aging advocates say that Trump’s acceptance speech was short on details when it can to domestic policy, specifically Social Security and Medicare. But, you won’t need tea leaves to read how a future Trump Administration will change the way the nation supports its retirees. .

According to Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), the choice of Governor Mike Pence as Trump’s running mate should send “a very clear message to America’s seniors that their priorities will hold little weight in a Trump administration.” While Trump has promised on the campaign trail that he won’t cut Social Security and Medicare.

During his 12 years serving as a U.S. Congressman, Pence consistently voted in favor of GOP legislative efforts to cut benefits in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, says Richtman, charging that Trump’s vice presidential running mate is one of a few Congressional lawmakers that has a strong “anti-seniors voting record.”

Richtman says that “Mike Pence was one of Congress’ biggest proponents of privatization. He supports cutting Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age, reducing the COLA, means-testing and turning Medicare into “CouponCare.” As he told CNN, ‘I’m an all of the above guy. I think we need to look at everything that’s on the menu,’ and the record shows he has done just that by supporting every form of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefit cut proposed in the past decade.”

While Trump has promised not to cut Social Security benefits on his year-long campaign trail, he continues to surround himself with advisors who are “polar opposite” of his positions says Richtman. “They say actions speak louder than words — Donald Trump’s choice of Mike Pence as his Vice-Presidential running mate will speak volumes to American seniors,” he adds.

Political Experts Weigh in

Darrell M. West, Ph.D., Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, says that “Trump is on record as saying he does not want to cut Social Security so that is considerably different from most Republican leaders, who support benefit reductions as a way to balance its books. This probably is the reason the [GOP] platform is vague on Social Security. The party could not reconcile Trump’s view on not cutting benefits with the party’s general view that cuts are needed. That left them with a reference to market solutions without explaining what that meant.”

“Party leaders have said they want to raise the retirement age for people under age 50. That issue certainly would be on the issue in a Trump presidency although it is not clear how he views that issue. But there would be significant support in a GOP-run Congress for doing that and cutting the benefits of future retirees,” adds West.

West believes that “Democrats have a very good chance of recapturing control of the Senate. If that happens, that will allow them to block benefit reductions or raising the retirement age, he says.

Wendy Schiller, professor and chair, Department of Political Science at Brown University, warns that talking about changing Social Security can be risky and this “involves a depth of knowledge about entitlement financing that eludes most political candidates especially those without any political experience.”

The Brown professor of politics does not see Trump tackling this issue in any meaningful way in the campaign and she does not believe it will be a priority for him or the GOP if he wins. “Recall George W. Bush tried to reform Social Security immediately after he won reelection in 2004 – by late January 2005 it was dead on arrival in Congress,” she says.

“Overall I am not sure the GOP leadership in the Congress has fully processed what a Trump presidency would look like in terms of policy or what his priorities might be. It is unclear to me that they will align closely and getting anything through Congress these days is nearly impossible, no matter who sits in the Oval Office,” she adds.

Stark Differences in Platforms to Fix Social Security

On Friday, the released Democratic Platform released reveal a stark difference as how to the Democratic and Republican parties will fix the ailing Social Security program. The GOP platform. Although current retirees and those close to retirement will receive their benefits, changes are looming with a Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Congress. For younger generations all benefit cut options to be put on the table, opposing the lifting of the payroll tax cap and sees privatization of Social Security as a way for older American’s to create wealth for use in retirement. On the other hand, the Democratic Party platform calls for a strengthening and expansion of the existing Social Security program. The Democrats oppose any attempts to “cut, privatize or weaken” Social Security, and calls for lifting the payroll tax and exploring a new COLA formula.

NCPSSM’s Richtman notes “ It’s also very telling that while the GOP buried their cuts and privatization plans for Social Security under the Platform’s Government Reform heading, the Democrats addressed Social Security, as they should, as part of their plan to restore economic security for average Americans. That’s been Social Security’s fundamental role for more than 80 years — providing an economic lifeline impacting the lives of virtually every American family.”

As AARP’s John Hishta noted in his July 22 blog, even though the “political spotlight was not on Social Security” at the RNC in Cleveland, delegates, rank-and-file politicians and even political operatives that he talked with clearly understand the programs importance to retirees and younger generations.

“If political leaders fail to act, future retirees could lose up to $10,000 a year. All beneficiaries could face a nearly 25 percent cut in their benefit,” warns Hishta. .

Hishta tells his blog readers that “AARP’s Take a Stand campaign left the RNC with renewed determination to make updating Social Security a bigger part of the presidential debate.” He pledges to continue pushing for strengthening and expanding the nation’s Social Security program at next week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and until the November presidential elections.

To keep informed about Social Security discussion during this presidential campaign go to http://takeastand.aarp.org/,

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On the Political Art of Compromise

          Published on August 3, 2012, Pawtucket Times

          The bipartisan spirit is briefly alive and well inside the Beltway.  With the Presidential and Congressional elections looming, just a little more than three months away, top Democratic and Republican Leadership this week forged an agreement to pass a “continuing resolution” to keep the federal government afloat for six months after the current budget year ends at the end of September. 

          Politically speaking, who wants to face the wrath of American voters fueled by the possibility of a government shut down before Election Day on November 6, 2012?  Not our lawmakers.

           After the upcoming November election, America’s political system may well become more polarized creating Congressional gridlock, if Tea Party candidates come to Washington, DC supporting the philosophy of  “no-compromise.”  If this occurs major policy decisions like reforming the nation’s retirement system and keeping Medicare afloat might happen only when the proverbial “Hell freezes over.”

Tea Party on the Rampage

         Tea Party backed candidate, Ted Cruz, won the Texas Republican Senate primary this week, potentially tilting the Senate toward the right if he wins in November. Over the years, we have seen moderate Republicans toppled by candidates aligned to the Tea Party who view working across the aisle as a weakness and compromise as a political sin.

        In one instance, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, a six-term GOP Senator lost his Republican primary race two months ago against State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who was backed by a coalition of Tea Party-aligned groups.  In his concession speech, the 80 year old Lugar warned Mourdock  that his goal of riding “the Republican Party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it” won’t be able to problem solve or govern.” The longest serving Senator in the State’s history also warned that “unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator.”  

       Last February, Senator Olympia Snow, of Maine, chose voluntary to walk away from the U.S. Senate after being a moderate voice in that chamber of 33 years, noting her decision was based on intense partisan bickering that now echoes throughout the Halls of Congress. 

       “Politics has been defined as the art of the possible.  That means compromise on both sides is needed to move the public business forward,” says Susan Sweet, a well-know lobbyist and consultant for nonprofit agencies and causes.  While the Democratic Party encompasses people of wide philosophies, the Republican party has become a party of “intransient idealogues,” observes Sweet. “Their sharp turn to the right has distanced and alienated moderate Republicans who previously formed a bridge for compromise and progress.  Moderates, like the late Senator Nelson Rockefeller of New York and the late Senator John Chafee were examples of the politicians who knew the art of politics, how to negotiate and when to compromise.

Reaching Across the Aisle

         But wait, Senator Orrin Hatch, concludes in an opinion piece, “Ted Kennedy: Later Senator Sought Bipartisan,” in the October 22, 2009, published in US News, you can support your political party’s philosophy and still be bipartisan, too.               

         The Republican Senator from Utah, who has served his state since 1977, considered Kennedy, who fought for the principles and philosophy of the Democratic Party, one of the nation’s greatest leaders for reaching across the aisle.

        Considered to be one of the most liberal Democrats in the last 50 years, who spearheaded almost every Democratic cause, Senator Hatch applauded his friends “ability and willingness to set party aside when there was some good to be done.”

         According to Senator Hatch in his opinion piece, the failing of American politics results from “politicians being too willing to toe the party line,”  not wanting to compromise their political agenda, “even when accepting the ideas and contributions of those outside their Party will advance their cause.”

            Sen. Hatch also viewed the late Democratic Senator’s lasting political legacy was “his unwillingness to let partisanship ruin a good opportunity to help those in need, and his ability to inspire others to follow his example.”

           Also, noted in Sen. Hatch’s USNews opinion piece, when in the minority, Senator Kennedy successfully enacted legislation because of his willingness to “move to the center or even the center-right when he recognized that Republicans shared his goals, even if they had different ideas on how to achieve those goals.”

           When the Democrats-controlled Congress, Senator Kennedy reached out to the minority GOP to get his legislation passed.  Senator Hatch noted that Massachusetts Senior Senator “had the political courage to defy interest groups and even his own party in order to reach bipartisan compromise,” to move legislation, specifically, the Children Health Insurance Program, the Ryan White AIDS Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.

          Darrell West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution, views Senator Kennedy’s most famous bipartisan legislation to be No Child Left Behind.  “He worked closely with President George W. Bush to pass this bill.  He reached across the political aisle and was able to bring Republicans and Democrats together to pass this education reform, said the former Rhode Islander, noting that this was one of many such bipartisan successes on the Senator’s part.  There are few people left in the Senate who have the interest in or credibility for this type of outreach.

Campaigns Gearing Up for Votes

            By now, political candidates are mailing campaign literature to aging baby boomers and seniors, hoping to effectively deliver their political messages and ultimately to influence their votes.

            As the nation pulls out of the economic doldrums, voters must educate themselves to the real issues and read in between the lines of campaign literature to learn more about the candidate’s background and issues.

           Marking the ballot in the voting booth becomes even more difficult in heated partisan campaigns where you must separate political bickering, rhetoric and negative innuendoes from the substance of issues.

           Keeping Social Security afloat, fixing a broken Medicare program, or bringing fairness to the nation’s tax codes, will not happen if Congress cannot compromise or negotiate on legislative proposals.   No longer can our elected officials view issues either black or white, but can be shades of gray.

Rising to the Political Occasion

         Even with his human frailties, Sen. Kennedy rose to the political occasion time after time and to confront legislative challenges by reaching out to both political friends and foes.  One might say he wrote the tome on the art of political compromise and negotiations, a guide for both his Democratic and Republican Congressional Colleagues to follow.

             The rise of the Tea Party and its political philosophy of  “no-compromise” and “torch and burn” to ensure ideological purity, will have an adverse impact on every generation, from today’s seniors, their aging baby boomer children, and finally, to their young grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

                  Where are the Republican Congressional moderates of today when the nation sorely need’s them to do the public’s business.

             Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  This commentary was published in the August 3, 2012 issue of the Pawtucket Times. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.